31st Sunday in ordinary time Year A

Theme:  Leaders or bosses?

Today’s liturgy puts before us the theme of leadership and point out that humanity is most times poorly served by insincere leaders. It goes ahead to describe qualities a leader should foster for the well-being of the community. True leaders are a medium through which others can come to know and accept or reject their ideas and authority.

First reading: Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10

This reading comes from two longer sections of Malachi’s work. The first is an oracle about Levitical Priesthood while the second protests against mixed marriages and divorce while questioning the commitment of the clergy. This anonymous prophet known simply as Malachi which is not his proper name but a term which means ‘my messenger’ preached a message of joy as he envisioned a time when: a- peoples of every nation would participate in a new and universal liturgy cf. Malachi 1:10-11; b- the Lord would be amazingly present cf. Malachi 3:1-2; c- all uncleanness would cease cf. Malachi 3:3, 19; and d- all promises would be fulfilled cf. Malachi 3:20. At the same time his message was also of anguish as he railed against the failures of his contemporaries to live in fidelity to their covenant with God. Malachi is assigned to a post-exilic date in the decades after the rebuilding and rededication of the temple in 515 B.C. His work reflects the sad reality that the spiritual and liturgical renewal of the people had not kept pace with their reconstructive and architectural achievements. The religious abuses which Malachi attempted to correct were precisely the same crimes that Nehemiah and Ezra sought to eradicate. This indifference, unrest and injustice was located within the small territory of Judah, 20 by 25 square miles that had at that time a population of about 20,000 inhabitants.

Using a tense tone, Malachi took the priests to task who had been assigned the responsibility of leading the people by word and example but had failed to do so. Rather than adhering to the law specifying unblemished gifts given in sacrifice as stipulated in Deuteronomy 15:21, the priests were accepting inferior offerings which were “torn, lame, sick” Malachi 3:13. Furthermore, the priests who were respected guardians of the Word of God failed to instruct the people in the ways of the Lord; to make matters worse they showed partiality cf. Malachi 14: 8. Such corruption of the highest level and compromise could not be acceptable. In view of these sins, Malachi denounced priests for making void the covenant of Levi. This covenant was the model for the priest who was to be knowledgeable in the law, to instruct the community, to be faithful to the covenant and to lead the faithful in authentic and sincere worship.

Malachi desires priests who are upright, honest and filled with fear of God living the covenant of life and peace. With true doctrine in there mouth, people in search of the Lord’s truth and justice are supposed to rely on their leadership; guidance and wise counsel cf. Malachi 2:4-7. In the absence of such leadership, Malachi and the other prophets labored to keep their community in touch with the ways and will of God which was supposed to be work of priests. Even today, these abuses are not amiss; therefore we need to keep our conscience alert in full effort to respect the covenant since we are “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” Exodus 19:6

Second reading: 1Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13

In order to understand the significance of this reading where Paul describes the quality and style of his ministry we need to first appreciate his words in their proper context. In 1Thessalonians 2:1-6, Paul defends himself against those who want to discredit his message and authority. As he evangelized there were plenty of nomadic preachers, teachers and false prophets who peddled a bizarre concoction of lies, sexual immorality and trickery. His opponents, trying to destroy his credibility claimed that he was just another of those wandering hucksters. The Didache confirms that false teachers plagued the early Christian community. According to this ancient document dating 100A.D says, “. . . every missioner who comes to you should be welcomed. . . at his departure should accept nothing but as much provisions as will last him to his next night’s lodging. . . . if he wants to settle down among you, let him find employment and earn his bread to make sure he does not live in idleness. Unless he agrees to this, he is only trying to exploit Christ” (Didache XI, XII.)

Aware of the attempts to smear his reputation, but also sensitive to the situation of the early Christians who were being cheated upon by false preachers and teachers, Paul reminded Thessalonians that his ministry among them had been exercised only for their well being since he did not wield his apostolic authority harshly, but lovingly, “as gentle as any nursing mother fondling her little ones” 1Thessalonians 2:7. He shared not only his knowledge of Christ and God’s plan of salvation but his very self. Paul’s motivation is obvious. In each community he assisted to establish, he made sure that all those he brought to Christ were dear to him. He further reminded them that he had not been of any financial burden to them cf. 1Thessalonians 2:9. As was his custom, Paul had joined the local guild of tentmakers in order to support himself while preaching the good news as it is documented in Acts 18:3. Although, two millennia have passed since Paul wrote to the 1Thessalonians, it is the same gospel which is being preached; those who welcome it receive openly, get transformed.

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Who were the scribes and Pharisees? Did they deserve all the bad press they have received throughout centuries? The Pharisees owed their existence to two unpleasant facts of life, Hellenism and Romanism. The manner in which Hebrews reacted to the Hellenistic cultural penetration and the political support from Romans, determined which party they gave their support. These Spiritual descendants of Hasidim/Pious ones supported the Maccabean revolt against the Hellenizing forces of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. When Rome came to power, the Pharisees, who claimed Ezra as their founding father, practiced passive resistance toward the empire while concentrating their efforts on a scrupulous observance of oral and written law calling it the traditions of the elders cf. Mark 7:3.

This detailed body of legislation numbering 613 prescriptions was comprised of the binding opinions and verdicts of the rabbis concerning the Pentateuch. It was equivalent to our Acts of parliament that make the National Constitution impossible to comprehend. Their meticulousness in keeping the law, their fasts, ritual washings, tithing and strict dietary observance set them apart from the majority of Hebrew society, hence the name Pharisee which means ‘one who is separate’. The scribes, who were often paired with the Pharisees, were instead, learned experts in the law who argued, interpreted and applied the precepts of the law to every aspect of daily living. Contrary to common opinion, the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed some prestige within their community who respected and admired them even if they could not emulate their way of life. Although there was obvious opposition between these legal experts and Jesus, it would be erroneous to attribute a general scathing indictment. Some, like Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus at Dinner.

The harsh criticism can be attributed to a general resistant character to read the signs of the times. The Temple had been destroyed by the Gentile Romans who were somehow accommodated by Jews who had become Christians. These Jewish Christians on the other hand stood up with mockery at the Scribes and Pharisees refusal to welcome the messiah. Prejudices like these flew back and forth. What can accurately be attributed to Jesus is his insight that Pharisaic and scribal authority was faulty due to the gap between what they said and what they did. They failed to teach and lead by example; they imposing unnecessary legal burdens on others and preferred pretence to humility and truth.


If we would like to be good leaders like Malachi, Paul and Jesus; we ought to understand that true leadership is not effectively exercised from a posture or title; true leaders are enablers who help others to develop and realize their full potential in meeting life’s challenges. One such leader was Steve Jobs, who built and managed one of the world’s famous industry in mobile phones, face book, email and the Smart Phones. Steve Jobs put it clearly that he had achieved success and the loyal recognition of his employees by being a leader rather than a boss. In his own comparison he put two types of executives: The boss drives other people; a leader instead coaches them. The boss depends on authority; the leader on good will. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says, I; the leader says We. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how. The boss says, Go!; the leader says, shall we proceed? In addition to inspiring and enabling others, good leaders also lead and educate others by the example they set. Leadership disintegrates into hypocrisy when what comes out of a person’s mouth is not continually matched by life-style, values, decisions and choices. We all need to strive to grow into true leadership since it is a necessity for well living and clear orientation towards adding value to what God wants us to be.

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